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Retirement Is Awful! 3 Tips to Get You on the Positive Side of That Experience

Everyone has complaints about their work, and often, retirement seems an idyllic time of freedom from schedules and appointments with far fewer responsibilities. But, as with all phases of life, there are good and bad facets. One unexpected aspect may be a sense of grief over leaving your career or work.

Loss of Identity

Many people develop their sense of identity through their work. That identity is very strong and when it is gone, there is often a feeling of loss and confusion. Who are you now if you are not an accountant, business owner, etc.?

You need self-compassion because you and your life are changing. You need time and effort to feel comfortable in your new role. One way to start building a “retirement” identity is to list the roles you have outside of work and what you enjoy about each of them.

These may include:

  • spouse,
  • parent,
  • grandparent,
  • volunteer,
  • community member, etc.

Give yourself space and time to create the new you. Accept that it will be a different “you” but an equally valid one.


Self-compassion, time, and patience are needed during this unsettling stage. Be kind and supportive of yourself and ask for others’ support as you reinvent your identity.

Leading self-compassion researcher Kristen Neff describes the three elements of self-compassion in a lecture at the Greater Good Science Center.


How do you talk to yourself? Is it positive or negative? Be aware of your self-talk; it may tend toward the negative.

Retirement is a major life change, and it takes effort to craft a new role. Be aware of what you are saying to and about yourself. Try neutral self-talk if positive thoughts seem too difficult at first.

Common Humanity

Most people who retire will feel stress dealing with this major life change. This is a normal human reaction to change, in general. Building or joining a community of others in similar situations can be helpful.


Being mindful simply means being aware, present, and compassionate in the moment. Grief over lost opportunities or being nervous over an unknown future are less likely to occur when cultivating a mind-set of being in the present.

Mindfulness is also a good tool to check out what is missing when retired. Is it connection, meaning, or purpose?

Returning to Work

Many people retire and then return to work. Be aware of why you are returning to work, if that is the path that you choose. Are you avoiding something, do you love the job, or for financial reasons?

  • Are you afraid of the void that retirement can generate at the beginning?
  • Do you miss the habits of work, like social interaction, etc.?
  • Do you want to use your skills, knowledge, and experience again?
  • Is it simply familiar and safe?

Be clear why you are returning to the work force. You may have good reasons to do it. Everyone is different and returning to work may be the best course for you.

Returning to work is not the only way to interact or to practice those skills that you enjoyed at your job. A thorough understanding of what you hope to achieve by returning to work is important. Duplicating the positives of work in other ways also allows you to enjoy the positive benefits of retirement.

Adjusting to Retirement

Retirement may well unsettle your life, and it certainly requires adjustment to the new reality. Feelings of fear, distress, etc. are signals that something is out of balance.

Be self-aware. Explore the reasons for these feelings so that you can create the life you want in retirement. Do retirement your own way by creating space to listen to yourself.

  • Use mindfulness to step out of your habits and become aware of the moment.
  • Do something new or something that you haven’t had time for before.
  • Use mindfulness and/or nature to develop creativity and encourage mental flexibility.
  • Be open to opportunities that may be very different from previous activities.

Contrary to popular belief, grief or loss do not go away with time. It is using the time to accept and go forward that will lead to a lessening and acceptance of these emotions.

It is different for each person, but in all cases, you must find your own purpose and meaning in retirement to make a positive transition.

What changes did you experience in your life after you retired? Were they positive or negative? How are you dealing with the new situation? Do you have any tips for the women in our community? Please share them below.

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The Author

After taking early retirement as a policy officer, Stephanie Cunningham moved to Australia and earned general and specialized certifications to teach senior yoga. She taught classes for 10 years, then started a podcast about changing the perception of yoga.

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